On Tuesday, April 10, 2018 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the BJCC, Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Projects (SIPP) Board Members Professor Bernard Amadei, President Peter Ornstein, and Vice President Tara Winer will discuss their January 2018 trip to Israel and the West Bank. In addition to reviewing existing and potential projects relating to wastewater management, water contamination at the Mar Saba Monastery, electronic waste management, and educational programs, Amadei, Ornstein, and Winer will talk about new personal connections made and opportunities presented during their trip.
This was SIPP’s third trip to the region. Each time we have brought valuable expertise to assist directly on problems on the ground, affecting everyday lives. But perhaps most moving have been the personal contacts and stories of the Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans with whom we have worked.
Although the prospect of peace between Israelis and Palestinians may seem dim, Palestinians and Israelis are working together behind the scenes to promote environmental sustainability. A group of us in Boulder wondered what our community could do to support these largely informal and “under the radar” efforts.
In 2015 we formed Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Projects (SIPP) to encourage existing connections and promote new relationships between Palestinians and Israelis with mutual interests, particularly with respect to environmental sustainability. Our hope is that these personal connections will encourage peaceful coexistence. Our starting philosophy was the importance of being a neutral partner. As a recent Palestinian visitor from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies told us, “Don’t be pro-Palestinian. Don’t be pro-Israeli. Be pro-solution.” That is what we are trying to do.
While a peace deal will likely involve dividing land, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists know that no one can divide the water and the air. Taking care of the environment should not be held hostage to politics. There are severe problems that need immediate attention.
SIPP’s first endeavor involved the clean-up of a historically important drainage basin that extends east from the Old City of Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. In the drier regions, deep ravines, or wadis, carry water only during the rainy season. The Kidron Stream/Wadi Nar flows year-round but not with water—it flows with raw sewage coming from both Jewish and Arab communities. As it flows by Palestinian villages in the West Bank, it collects more sewage and discarded waste. On its path is the breathtaking Mar Saba Monastery, built into the cliffs along the Kidron/Nar, where Orthodox Christians have prayed continuously for 1500 years.
While the Kidron/Nar has always been a conduit for human waste, the enormous population growth in the basin over the past 100 years has overwhelmed the basin’s natural ability to accommodate this waste. As both Israeli and Palestinian populations continue to grow, the waste problem is becoming more acute, impacting everyone.
Palestinian and Israeli engineers, lawyers, scholars, and government officials have developed an ambitious environmentally sustainable master plan for the entire Kidron/Nar Basin. The goal of the project is not just to clean up the Kidron/Nar, it is also to promote environmental stewardship and tourism in the region. While many of the master plan components for the basin have yet to be approved, construction of a treatment plant that will treat much of the sewage and provide water for agriculture is currently supported by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Other work is progressing informally.
SIPP has supported the larger vision through financial support for construction of two wetland projects – one a demonstration wetland adjacent to two schools in a community near Bethlehem, and a larger one closer to the Mar Saba Monastery. Such wetlands can treat sewage locally and provide water for crops.
Because Israelis are only allowed to travel in limited areas of the West Bank and Palestinians cannot enter Israel without special permits, third parties can facilitate joint projects between willing partners separated by red tape and physical barriers. We’ve connected Israeli and Palestinian scientists to one another and have assisted Israeli and Palestinian NGOs trying to address severe electronic waste problems.
American experts can offer assistance relating to recycling, waste management, wastewater and air quality. Boulder resident Eric Lombardi, an internationally recognized expert on waste management and recycling, traveled with SIPP to the region in 2015. Eric shared his experience on how changing norms around waste management in Boulder helped to create a culture around re-use and recycling. Anne Peters, also of Boulder, and an expert on scrap electronic disposal, toured the region with SIPP in 2016. She conducted workshops in both the West Bank and Israel on the proper management of electronic waste as an alternative to open burning. With Anne’s assistance, SIPP also assisted a leading Israeli environmental NGO in analysis and critique of Israel’s own electronics waste management law.
Where do we go from here? With the connections SIPP has made we are looking at several projects throughout Israel and the West Bank. We will continue to help Palestinians and Israelis—Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bedouin, Druze, and others – work together to promote their common interests in caring for their shared environment.
We hope you will join us to learn more and share your expertise at the April 10th Community Update at the BJCC. For more information or to RSVP, visit our website at www.SIPProjects.org.